Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Shakespeare's Wife

Because setting is so important for creating a believable story, writers of historical fiction try to capture the time, place, and social environment so we can transport our readers to another world. While it is fairly easy to find information on time (historical events happening alongside our story) and place (physical location and all the right “props”), the biggest challenge comes in discovering details of the social environment. How did people behave toward one another? What were the expectations on various individuals? What happened when the social classes mingled? Therefore, when a writer finds an excellent research book, it’s like finding a gold mine.
One such book is Shakespeare’s Wife, by Germaine Greer. If you are writing a book set in England in the sixteenth or seventeen centuries, I recommend this book as a treasure trove of information about those times. Particularly helpful for romance writers would be the place of women in society, women’s occupations, and attitudes toward women.

Greer’s purpose in Shakespeare’s Wife is to vindicate Ann Hathaway and dismiss the assumption that the Bard abandoned his wife and the mother of his children because she was somehow unworthy of such a great man’s regard. Of course, that doesn’t say much about the character of a playwright who wrote so much about constancy in love and marriage. But I digress. In her book, Greer presents a picture of what life was really like for women in rural England during the reign of Elizabeth I.
History books and biographies tell us all about kings, queens, and the aristocracy, but what about the daughter of a small town glove maker? Could a woman inherit money and property? How could a young mother provide for her small children while her husband is away in London making a bid for fame and fortune? Who were her friends? Would anyone provide for a widow with children? All of these are addressed in detail in this scholarly yet readable book. For those who are concerned about using secondary sources, the author meticulously documents all of her findings.
I don’t have anything to add to the debate about whether or not Shakespeare abandoned his wife, but I do find Greer’s arguments sound and reasonable. In addition, she has provided fiction writers with a clear picture of the life of ordinary women in a way not easily discovered on Wikipedia, the Internet, or even the local library. For any author wanting to write stories set in Elizabethan England, I recommend adding this book to your own personal research library.

My newest release, set in Regency England, takes place a few centuries later than when Shakespeare wrote his plays and sonnets. Please check out A Proper Companion at
She has nothing left but faith…
With her father's death, Anna Newfield loses everything: her home, her inheritance, and her future. Her only piece of good fortune is a job offer from wounded Major Edmond Grenville, whose mother requires a companion. The Dowager Lady Greystone is controlling and unwelcoming, but Anna can enjoy Edmond's company, even if she knows the aristocratic war hero can never return her love. Even amid the glittering ballrooms of London, nothing glows brighter for Edmond that Anna's gentle courage. Loving her means going against his family's rigid command. Yet how can he walk away when his heart may have found its true companion?


  1. Your book sounds equally as fascinating as "Shakespeare's Wife." Thanks for the heads up on a great resource.

    Thinking of what life must have been like in Shakespeare's day makes me glad I'm a woman of this century. :)

  2. I read Shakespeare's Mistress last year. It's about Anne Whately. I loved the detail. And, I'm with Debby. I'm glad I'm of this century.

  3. That time period is so fascinating to me. Even though I generally don't enjoy scholarly books, this one sounds worth the read.

    But your book sounds better!!!


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